Felix is going to Russia!

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*Update: You can follow his progress via the Facebook FelixUltimate page

I will be in Moscow from 15-26th May, and on the 20-21st weekend I’ll be running a Hex Workshop! Russia has a well developed Ultimate community, so the primary aim of this visit is to train interested players, coaches and captains in Hex Offence and Flex Defence, so they can understand the advantages and disadvantages of strategies better and choose what is best for their team. I will also be having a meeting at an embassy with a view to starting a 10 Million Discs NE Europe / Baltics program, similar to the work we have been doing in the Balkans.

More info on the Hex Workshop can be found here on the Facebook event – if you have any frisbee playing friends in Moscow, please let them know about it and encourage them to sign up!

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Sussex Mohawks win UKU Uni Men’s Nationals 2017 – plus a look back to Uni 1989-2016 results

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Tom Aitken, Zach Fairclough, Charlie Butt, Luis Semple, Arran Belden, Christian Turvill, Chun Lee, Dan Prichard, Jake Betson. Kneeling: Chris Wastell, Desmond Mombo, Jonny Arthur, Will Seth, Dom Burnham, Ashley Yeo. Coaches: Felix Shardlow, John Maule, Glen Newell

University Outdoor Nationals took place in Nottingham this weekend, with Sussex Mohawks and UCL winning in the Men’s and Women’s divisions respectively.

Uni Outdoor Nationals Results 2016-17
Open:
1. Sussex
Dsc_01742. Bath
3. Glasgow
4. Birmingham

Women’s:
1. UCL
2. Oxford
3. Edinburgh
4. Birmingham

Full results available here.

Sussex faced St Andrews in their quarter final due to losing to Strathclyde in the group stage. It was a rematch of the Uni Indoor Final from earlier this season, with both teams programs culminating in a big year this year. The Brighton-based team saw the indoor champions off 7-4 in a well spirited match, went on to beat Birmingham 9-6 in the semi final using their alternative approach to defence, before facing Bath in the final – a rematch from the group stage. Both teams scored upwind multiple times, Sussex were able to take half with an incredible trailing edge catch from Luis Semple (below), and saw the game out 9-7 to take the National Championship title.
This is the 4th Uni Men’s Outdoor title Sussex University have won – their third in the last 7 years with Felix Shardlow as coach (joined this year by John Maule and Glen Newell). Sussex now hold more Uni Open Outdoor titles than any other university in history.

4 titles: Sussex
3 titles: Edinburgh, Bristol, Leeds
2 titles: Cambridge, Warwick
1 title: Nottingham, Birmingham, Cork, Portsmouth, Cardiff, Loughborough, Aberdeen, Glasgow, Sheffield

Luis Semple with a fade-away layout save before Sussex get an upwind point for half. This angle is generally considered by those present to not do the play justice.
UK Uni Open Outdoor National Titles, 1990-2017:
1989-1990: Warwick (Bears), Sussex (Mohawks), Reading (Dragons), Leeds (Lizards) [read report on final here]
1992-1993: Cambridge (Bad Company), Edinburgh (Sneekys), Southampton (Skunks)
1993-1994: Bristol (Mythago), Warwick (Bears), Sussex (Mohawks), Edinburgh (Sneekys)
1994-1995: Bristol (Mythago), Southampton (Skunks), Sussex (Mohawks), Warwick (Bears)
1995-1996*: Bristol (Mythago), Leeds (Catch 22), Oxford (Ow!) *Sussex finished 1st but stripped of title due to rostering
1996-1997: Leeds (Catch 22), Southampton (Skunks), Bristol (Mythago), Sussex (Mohawks)
1997-1998: Sussex (Mohawks), Bristol (Mythago), St Andrews (Flying Sorcerers), Leeds (Jedi Children)
1998-1999: Leeds (Jedi Children), Sussex (Mohawks), Bristol (Mythago), Edinburgh (RoShamBo)
1999-2000: Sheffield (Phat Eds), Leeds (Jedi Children), Warwick (Bears), Edinburgh (RoShamBo)
2000-1: Edinburgh (RoShamBo), Sheffield (Phat Eds), Oxford (Ow!), Sussex (Mohawks)
2001-2: Glasgow (Far Flung), Leeds (Jedi), Bristol (Mythago), Oxford (Ow!)
2002-3: Leeds (Jedi), Oxford (Ow!), Bristol (Mythago), Loughborough (Haze)
2003-4: Aberdeen (Positive Mojo), Leeds (Jedi), Loughborough (Haze), Edinburgh (RoShamBo)
2004-5: Loughborough (Haze), Edinburgh (RoShamBo), Bristol (Mythago), Southampton (Skunks)
2005-6: Edinburgh, Bristol, Cardiff, Loughborough
2006-7: Edinburgh, Bristol, Exeter, Cambridge

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Dom Burnham scans the field

2007-8: Cardiff, Cambridge, Bristol,  Durham
2008-9: Warwick, Portsmouth, Loughborough
2009-10: Portsmouth, Edinburgh, Warwick
2010-11: Sussex, Cambridge, Edinburgh
2011-12: Sussex, Cork, Bristol
2012-13: Cork, Edinburgh, Birmingham
2013-14: Cambridge, Sussex, Manchester
2014-15: Birmingham, Dundee, Manchester
2015-16: Nottingham, Glasgow, Birmingham
2016-17: Sussex, Bath, Glasgow

UCL Women came in with a small squad with the aim to use Nats as a development tournament for many of the freshers on the team. Despite losing some star players this past year, including Vanessa Lowe (Iceni), Alison Walker (ex-Iceni/Deep Space), Ruth Kilsby (on a year abroad in Texas), the team gelled and brought together a zone which threw off many of the teams they faced.
On offence Alix Henry was instrumental, throwing many hucks. For some more perspectives, check this reddit thread.

UK Uni Women’s Outdoor titles, 2006-17:

Click for full Uni Women’s results 2006-2017

2005-6: Leeds, Loughborough & Nottingham, Southampton
2006-7: Sussex, Southampton, Cambridge. Scotland
2007-8: Bristol, Loughborough & Nottingham, Oxford
2008-9: Sussex, Newcastle, Warwick
2009-10: Warwick, St Andrews, Sussex
2010-11: Sussex, Cambridge, St Andrews
2011-12: Sussex, Southampton, York
2012-13: Sussex, Edinburgh, Newcastle
2013-14: Bangor, Durham, Birmingham
2014-15: Oxford, Birmingham, Loughborough
2015-16: Birmingham, Exeter, Newcastle
2016-17: UCL, Oxford, Edinburgh, Birmingham

5 titles: Sussex
1 title: UCL, Birmingham, Oxford, Bangor, Warwick, Bristol, Leeds

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Christian Turvill puts up a flick huck

UK Uni Mixed Outdoor titles, 2006-17:

Click for full Uni Mixed results 2006-2017

2005-06: Edinburgh, St Andrews, Leeds, Sheffield
2006-07: Trinity College Dublin, St Andrews, Aberdeen, Newcastle
2007-08: Warwick, St Andrews, Leeds, Edinburgh
2008-09: Warwick, Cambridge, Nottingham, Manchester
2009-10: Warwick, Manchester
2010-11: Sussex, Warwick, St Andrews, Aberdeen
2011-12: Southampton, Loughborough, Manchester, Sussex
2012-13: Edinburgh, Leicester, Sussex, Durham
2013-14: Birmingham, Dundee, Bristol, Nottingham
2014-15: Birmingham, Dundee, Heriot-Watt, Oxford
2015-16: Birmingham, Glasgow, Dundee, Durham

3 titles: Birmingham, Warwick
2 titles: Edinburgh
1 titles: Southampton, Sussex, Trinity College Dublin

Footage: I will be posting footage here when it surfaces – if you have any then please send me the links! Two short videos are available on the UK Ultimate Sofa Sideline group.

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Some drama in the ro-sham-bo for the spirit prize between Sussex 2 and Oxford, as Oxford make a false-start call

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Five players who have been on the Sussex team for 3 years – Chun Lee, Will Seth, Christian Turvill, Chris Wastell, Tom Aitken

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Ashley Yeo, a returning post-graduate currently captaining GB Open Beach & Clapham Ultimate, picks up his 3rd Uni Open Outdoor gold medal & trophy

Summary of all divisions from UK Ultimate:
Congratulations to all the teams and players for another fantastic BUCS Championships in Nottingham last weekend. The famous Nottingham wind made for very different conditions on Saturday and Sunday, but the standard of play was high throughout.
In the Men’s Championships, Sussex won their third title in 7 years with victory over Bath in the final, recovering from a pool play defeat on Saturday to power through the bracket. Glasgow took the bronze with their second victory of the weekend over Birmingham.
The Women’s Championships were won by UCL over Oxford in a strong showing for the East region, with Edinburgh taking the bronze. The big story in this division is the increasing parity and depth – 1st beat 8th in sudden death, 6th beat 16th in sudden death…
Nottingham won the Men’s Trophy, in theory making them the best 4th placed team in the BUCS leagues and the most unlucky to miss out on Division 1 due to their tough region – except that their final opponents, Edinburgh, were actually 5th in Scottish 1A, and Scotland 4 (Strathclyde) made it as high as 5th in the Championship! Surrey took home the bronze.
In the Women’s Trophy, Huddersfield dominated from start to finish, with their closest result a comfortable 8-3 win over Southampton in the final. Bath took the bronze.
In the Men’s Conference Cup, the top 4 teams were very closely matched, with Oxford eventually seeing off Newcastle in the final and Southampton taking the bronze over Sheffield.

Albania: Introducing Ultimate to an entire country

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Click for full photosphere from Petrela Castle

I recently travelled to Albania for eight days as part of a 10 Million Discs project in the Balkans. There were 5 of us present for most sessions – Trent Simmons (Founder & President of 10 Million Discs), Juan Amado from Columbia (coach), James Martin (coach), myself (head coach), and Erjona Kurti from the US Embassy.

Also see: Full Google Photo album | Full day-by-day blogs from Albania

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10MD with US Embassy staff Erjona & Meghan

10 Million Discs is an international youth development NGO which engages youth through sports, frequently with a focus on bringing together people from countries or cultures with a history of conflict. By engaging them in a fun, new activity, 10MD are able to break down barriers whilst teaching conflict resolution, gender equality, mutual trust, personal accountability under pressure, and other important life skills. At the same time, 10MD programs are also tailored to advance social and humanitarian causes unique to the host country and communities.

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US Embassy in Tirana

In the build up to our trip, the US Embassy in Tirana worked together with the School Sports Federation, and arranged for 250+ PE teachers (covering 7 of the 10 major cities) to come together and learn from us how to teach Ultimate and its self-refereeing principles to their pupils. They produced 200 “Better Together” discs to be distributed amongst the schools, featuring US and Albanian flags, and 10 rules of Ultimate printed directly onto the discs in Albanian with English translation. Alongside map-to-albaniathe teacher-training sessions we also worked directly with a number of youth groups to introduce the sport, the principles of Spirit, and how they relate to real life skills.

Ultimate in Albania has been fairly sporadic over the last decade or so, with no sustained clubs in existence and no pickup happening currently. In the past there has been the occasional team or game, mostly comprising of ex-pats, but even that seems to have faded out now.

PE teachers in Shkoder

PE Teacher Training
In order to introduce the game across the whole country, our highest priority were the PE teacher-training sessions being held at the big cities – Kavaja, Shkoder, Durres, Tirana, and Vlore (plus Fier and Elbasan after I left). We went equipped with discs, a translator (most Albanians over 25 years old do not speak English), and a sound system for the sessions. The venues were varied and often challenging due to the high number of participants, but we made do with what we had to deliver the best sessions we could.

Each teacher-training session had 50-70 PE teachers attending, maximum 2 per school. Each session started with us explaining four cornerstones of 10MD’s take on Spirit of the Game / self-refereeing – Personal Accountability Under Pressure, Gender Equality, Mutual Respect, and Conflict Resolution. We introduced Ultimate as not only a new sport, but as a new approach to sport.

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51 PE teachers in Vlore – some of the 250+ PE teachers who learned how to teach Ultimate

Several teachers told us that such an approach (relying upon mutual trust & fair-mindedness in the heat of competition) would not work in Albania – a country which has a lot of problems; where life can be a struggle, people have their guard up, and a ‘take what you can get’ mentality is pervasive. However, we held strong that Spirit does work, and that the game of Ultimate ceases to function if mutual trust is not present – therefore those who play will quickly learn the importance of trusting and being trusted. We also expressed our hope that through playing Ultimate, the youth in Albania will learn new ways to approach situations in life where mutual respect and non-confrontational conflict resolution can go a long way, rather than following the example of some current sports (such as the most popular in Albania – soccer), which often reinforce a different way of thinking.

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Roma community, volunteers, and locals

The teacher-training sessions were challenging for a number of reasons (oversubscribed venues, communication issues), but we learnt a lot from each one, and we hope the teachers did too. Every teacher went away knowing the basic rules of the Ultimate at the very least, and at the most they understood spirit, good technique, and learnt some drills which they can run at their schools. Considering how the numbers scale up in terms of pupils getting to play the sport, I believe our PE teacher training program will give Albanian Ultimate a healthy kickstart, and I would expect a few Ultimate communities to take shape, develop, and grow over the coming years. Once a certain number of teams form and are recognised by a certain number of NGOs, an Albanian Flying Disc Federation can be established. After I left Albania, Trent met with the president of the School Sports Federation who said he wants to ideally start the Albanian HS Ultimate national championships next year, citing potential for SotG principles to change Albanian society as his primary reason for endorsing us. The cost savings of not needing referees was also mentioned as a big edge over other sports.

US Marines
As well as PE teacher training, we ran a number of sessions with other groups; one was at a gated community connected to the US Embassy, where kids and their parents came to learn about the game and take part in fun drills & games. Also present at this session were 7 US Marines. Speaking to one who had played before, he said that Ultimate was played amongst the marines in Baghdad “like a religion” – he would take part in games which would grow to 10v10 in size. Interesting to know! I imagine it’s favoured amongst marines due to the minimal equipment needed, the low risk of injury due to contact, the high levels of fitness that can be used, and the way it encourages and rewards good teamwork. The marines who hadn’t played before picked it up very quickly, and using them to demo a drill was a fantastic experience as a coach – not sure I’ll ever have a beginner group again who listen to and follow instructions so clinically!

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US Marines stationed in Albania – Ultimate is regularly played by marines in Baghdad

The marines also fell into team roles very quickly. One tall guy would defend the end zone and get the disc moving on the turn. A particularly quick-turning guy from New York had mastered end zone cutting by the end of the session and scored many, many points. Loads of them had awesome American-football style toeing-in ability, which was great to see. Whilst they were playing, we also had two other pitches set up for the kids & parents in the gated community, meaning everyone could play at the same time at a level they were comfortable with.

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The juvenile prison looked very modern from the outside

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Demonstrating throwing inside the juvenile prison

Juvenile Prison
We ran a number of sessions directly with youth in the cities we were working in – a model UN group, members of the Roma community, a few sports clubs, the political youth groups, and a session at a juvenile prison. The prison session was a very memorable and humbling experience – there were high levels of participation (43 inmates), though the prison warden stopped us from playing cross-cellblock games as we had hoped in case trouble started. We had four games going at the same time, and all the players I saw were enjoying themselves and playing fair – avoiding contact where they could, and settling disputes peacefully and respectfully on the field as and when they arose. As with any group, encouraging them to discuss the call between the two players involved would quickly lead to a resolution – usually the fairest one too. In the yard we were surrounded by 15ft high walls and almost all the prison guards were surrounding the pitches whilst we were playing.

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Political Youth Groups
We brought together three political youth groups, who played alongside each other as team mates for the first time, all of them learning the rules of the game and how to resolve disputes together. Some of them were really competitive and weren’t afraid to make calls (again, easily settled when the two parties involved are encouraged to discuss it between themselves), nor were they afraid to sky each other and throw themselves around after the frisbee to make awesome catches and interceptions. Initially there was some unwillingness to inter-mingle between groups, but through learning the rules together, translating for each other, sorting out calls and figuring out tactics, we saw plenty of barriers being broken down and the youth really embrace the ideals of mutual trust and respect, despite their political differences in a time of political tension.

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3 political youth groups learn Ultimate and SotG ideals of mutual respect during conflict resolution

National TV appearance

Towards the end of my stay we appeared live on the top Albanian national TV breakfast show! We were given a number of questions to prepare answers for, but to our surprise the presenters went immediately off-script and threw curve-balls our way. This again put us in a very challenging situation – the questions were being translated behind the scenes, so when the hosts finished their questions there was an awkward (and ultimately hilarious) pause before we even began to answer, as we waited for the translation to come through. They started off by comparing the sport to dominoes (?), and although we had to think on our feet regarding the answers, our preparation meant we did manage to say most of what we intended to – I explained the basic rules (after the classic ‘how is it different to throwing a frisbee on the beach?’ question), Trent explained the principles of Spirit of the Game, and Juan clarified how spirit works in a practical way on the field whilst Erjona was working in very difficult circumstances to translate back and forth. The section ended with us throwing around in the studio – one of their throws actually bounced off one of the cameras off-screen making a huge crash! Full video here.

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Socio-economic situation & the natural landscape of Albania

Unfinished buildings are scattered around Albania – concrete frames of houses where construction seemed to stop just before windows & doors were put in. The location of these houses is great from an aesthetic point of view – surrounded by green hills and the Dajti mountains, but the unfinished structures are a haunting reminder of the economic problems the country faces.

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The highways are generally well maintained, and took us on a path alongside beautiful scenery. Most of the central and eastern parts of Albania are covered in huge mountains; I took the opportunity to go up one of these mountains on our day off. Along the way up were many houses, with electricity getting less common the further up you go. Half way up was a small village with a lake, overlooking the city of Tirana – very picturesque indeed. The top of the mountain was enshrouded by a cloud, giving everything an eerie feel.
There are a few recurring structures amongst the mountains which hark back to a more violent history – I noticed two or three castles, and had the pleasure of visiting one called Petrela Castle, at the top of a mountain just south of Tirana. Inside we found an open-top restaurant/bar with one amazing table from where we could see the sun setting whilst enjoying an evening beer and making plans for the following day’s sessions. pillboxThere are lots of one-person concrete pillboxes / bunkers dotted around the scenery – built within the last century as what looks like a form of guerrilla war defence system – apparently there are 700,000 of them in total.

The city has a stray dog and cat population – the dogs are generally friendly and the cats are surviving by being very cautious. I didn’t get a chance to explore any real wilderness, inviting though it was, however I did come across a particularly large grasshopper / locust. Walking around in Albania was at times dangerous not because of wildlife or crime, but because of problems with the infrastructure – torn up pavements and roads, unguarded drops, or manholes with covers missing unguarded in the middle of the pavement could easily cause injury if you don’t keep your eyes open.

Summary – a glimmer on the horizon

If the 250+ PE teachers we trained get their frisbees and go on to introduce the game to 100+ pupils each, our immediate reach will be 25,000+ pupils. It will be interesting to see how the Ultimate  communities emerge and develop after this blanket approach – for middle- and high-school pupils it may be a few years before they organise themselves into clubs and teams outside of school, however by introducing the game to 120+ college students, working with 6 NGOs, appearing on local TV 6 times and on National TV twice – many adults could be encouraged to start clubs which the youth players can then join. Our next step will be to deliver leadership training courses and level-up the Ultimate knowledge amongst those who are growing the sport. We are in the process of distributing 450 discs to all the schools this year, with 1000 planned for next year – an ongoing supply of discs going into Albania would be ideal for supporting the developing Ultimate communities over the coming years.

To quote one of the PE teachers: “Albania is a country with many problems, and [Ultimate] is not one of them.” I hope that in time, Ultimate can be seen as a step towards a solution for some of the underlying problems Albania faces.

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Albania trip: Full daily blog

Albania trip with 10 Million Discs

Day 1: Tuesday, 11th April:
Introduced Ultimate to 43 inmates at a juvenile prison today, travelling there with staff from the US Embassy including a sound system. The prisoners were led out cell block by cell block – during the games at the end we weren’t allowed to have prisoners from one cell block competing against prisoners from another, in case of trouble – which was a shame as one of our core messages is that Ultimate breaks down barriers!
Some of the inmates were very enthusiastic about throwing and playing Ultimate, and the participation levels were very high – 95% threw around and took part in the drill, and then around 70% took part in the games at the end – which we found out later was an exceptional result. They respected us and were well behaved the entire time – resolving their disagreements very peacefully in accordance to the SOTG rules of Ultimate.

In the afternoon we had a meeting at the American Embassy with their public affairs officer, who said he was sold on the idea of helping spreading ultimate in any way the embassy can. We made use of a great opportunity to tell him about the Spirit of the Game, how Ultimate is easily accessible to people of all abilities and financial situations, and (he hadn’t heard this before:) that it’s played mixed gender in the World Games, with women on the field being equally valued as men, and in some games more.

After the meeting, Juan Amado (a coach from Colombia), Erta (our assigned translator/guide for the evening) and I went to Petrele Castle – on top of a mountain, an open top restaurant and bar, where we sat at the best table at the top of the castle and watched the sun set whilst planning for tomorrow. A great way to spend the evening and take some photos.

Tomorrow we’re teaching 70 PE teachers about Ultimate and how to teach it to students. If a school has two PE teachers, they are sending one. If they have five, they are sending two. So, the reach of this session is going to be huge. Tonight we’ve been discussing the best approaches we can use to give them the knowledge to be able to teach good technique, drills and strategy to their students.

Tomorrow evening we’re running a session with a non government organisation, but we don’t know much about it yet. In a few days we’ll be working with the youth of the political parties, and some real politicians will be coming along who requested no media coverage due to the sensitive nature of the situation – there are very important political movements happening at the moment and they’re worried about being seen to be not taking things seriously by playing frisbee! In reality we are championing a non violent and non confrontational approach to conflict resolution, and encouraging that in the political youth,. The US Embassy public affairs officer made it clear they were putting their full support behind the approach of spreading non-violent conflict resolution through (our) sport, so it’s a very interesting opportunity!

Albania day 2: Wednesday, 12th April

This morning we travelled to Shkoder (2hrs north of Tirana, on the border with Montenegro) to run a session with all the middle and high-school PE teachers from the city. 70-80 schools in total were represented, with the aim of taking Ultimate back to each school – along with a couple of discs provided by 10 Million Discs. The group was keen to learn but sometimes difficult to manage, perhaps due to the language barrier – although we had a great student translating for us. In Albania, the younger a person is, the more likely it is that they can speak English – far more students / youth than PE teachers.

We spent time explaining the concepts of Spirit of the Game, the rules, the history, the current state of the sport in terms of competition, training the teachers on how to correct common throwing technique issues, then demonstrated a couple of simple drills with volunteers which only require one or two discs (as this is how many the schools are likely to have to start), and then played a 5v5 match at the end to demonstrate what the game looked like in action (stopping and explaining calls and such to the 60 or so spectating PE teachers when appropriate).

In the afternoon we went to an NGO called Door Org, which runs a youth football club, and got around 20 young athletes playing the game – roughly half girls and half boys. They were fast and competitive, and seemed to have a really good time – being used to referees, it was interesting to see them become referees themselves when we insisted they sort out calls between themselves. Tomorrow we have a meeting in the morning, and a youth session with political groups in the afternoon.

There are loads of unfinished buildings in Albania – we joke about how we should start a windows & doors company which could turn the unfinished shells into houses, but in reality they are likely symbolic of Albania’s economic or political corruption issues.

Albania Day 3: Thursday, 13th April

After a meeting inside the ministry of defence about the possibility of starting a team with the youth there, we headed to a nice (but small) field in Tirana to run a session with the political youth.

The current political climate is rather sensitive, and the US Embassy were on board with attempting to spread a message of non-violent conflict resolution, and personal responsibility under pressure, through Ultimate. It was tricky at first to get the different groups to interact (asking them to pair up with someone from a different group did not work – they went away and took group photos instead – the opposite!), so we simply divided into four split teams and ran a drill or two before explaining the rules and playing games.

Lots of them got really into the games once they were started, which taught us that getting youth groups playing the game as quickly as possible is important – they are not interested in learning skills etc if they have no context / aim for where those skills can be used.

In the evening Trent, Juan, Alex, and I went to a place called BrauHaus for food, drinks, and some great stories about past Ultimate tournaments and discussions about the current strategies used in the game – where they originated from and where they may lead in the future. Unfortunately Trent and I got a bad case of food poisoning, which knocked us out for the entirety of day 4…

Albania days 4 & 5: Friday & Saturday, April 14th & 15th:

Day 4 has been all about Juan, James and Alex. Juan Amado is a Columbian national team player who works for 10 Million Discs introducing the sport in neighbouring Montenegro, James Martin is a local ex-pat also working with 10MD, and Alex is a traveller from France who got in touch with James looking for a pickup game and has been roped into helping us deliver sessions! His help proved very valuable on Friday; food poisoning hit Trent and I hard on Thursday night meaning we were completely out of action on Friday.

Juan, James and Alex ran a youth session in the morning where they tried playing a game of Ultimate as soon as possible – before any real throwing time, let alone drills or long descriptions of the rules – quick 5 rules and then into games. This was a really successful method, I believe because it captures the attention and focus of younger participants, and gives them a frame of reference for all the other skills and drills which we might want to cover in the session. It is also a good levelling technique for the group – no matter what they were doing beforehand, once everyone has played a game for a few minutes, they are all pretty much on the same page.

In the afternoon was another session for PE teachers – this time 15 teachers showed up with a load of their students, who were all very enthusiastic and will be taking the sport back to their schools to help introduce it. Although having a split group of teachers & students can complicate the session plan (is the aim to teach them how to play the sport, or teach them how to teach the sport?), the enthusiasm and knowledge/ability which the students will take back to their schools is likely to be very valuable in getting games and teams started there.

Saturday was our rest day – Trent and I found a dirt field nearby to throw a frisbee around for a while, but mostly focused on regaining our energy for the days ahead.

Albania day 6: Sunday, April 16th – Random session with the public and a short trip up a mountain.

We were scheduled to run a session with the Roma community in the morning, although we were told to prepare for a potential low turnout despite the best efforts of volunteer coordinators who work with the community. When we turned up to the field we begun throwing all our frisbees from end to end, aiming for the small soccer goals. Incidentally, soccer is easily the most popular sport in Albania, so we’ve learnt to explain Ultimate in terms of / in comparison to soccer.

Sure enough, the turnout from the Roma community was zero – however, the coordinators showed up, and several locals got interested whilst we were throwing from goal to goal – so we gathered them together, explained the game, and got playing! There were around 22 people taking part over two pitches, with ages ranging from 8-60, mostly young athletic people. After some game time we had a break and did some throwing in pairs (talking them through basic backhand and forehand techniques), before going back into two games, and finally one large game. People cycled in and out of the session, and by the end we still had around 20 people but most of them were different to those we started with!

Afterwards, there were a large group (who were connected because they were all anime enthusiasts I believe(?)) who had just joined in at the end and were very keen to learn more, so we hung out with them for a while and talked about the sport, rules, techniques, and explained what we’d been doing in Albania so far. We let them know if they wanted to start playing and start teams, there would be a lot of young people coming from schools who would now be familiar with the sport and keen to join a team. Although us meeting the group was completely unplanned, it’s possible the meeting could have some very productive consequences!

That afternoon I went up the Dajti mountains with James. The top of the mountain was inside a cloud, but the view from the cable car over Tirana was very impressive, and we just caught the sun setting on the way down.

Albania day 7: TV interview and training with the US Marines!

Today was a big day! We got up early and headed to the TV station for a live interview on the national Top Channel Albanian breakfast show, Wake Up! We had been given 8 questions to prepare answers for, but that plan immediately went out the window as the hosts immediately went off-script and asked us completely different questions. We had to wait for the questions to be translated (through our earpieces), which led to some hilariously awkward pauses before our answers. It sounded like they started off by comparing the sport to dominoes (?), but we got to talk about most of the things we wanted to get across – I likened the game to soccer with a frisbee and a scoring zone in place of a ball and a goal, Trent and Juan talked about the self refereed nature of the game, and then we had a quick throw with the presenters in the studio and one of their throws hit a camera, haha. Full interview can be found here: https://youtu.be/OcXmOPtYmk0?t=13m31s

In the afternoon we headed into the gated community connected to the US Embassy – more armed guards checking us as we arrived – and ran a session with 6 incredibly fit US marines, 12 kids aged 5-12, and 12 parents (most of whom had very high ranking jobs). We broke the session into two drills at the start – I used US Marines to demo the drill as they were unsurprisingly able to follow instructions very closely – and then we had three concurrent games – one for marines and experienced parents, one for small kids and a few of their parents, and one for the older kids.

The Marines who hadn’t played before picked it up very quickly. I spoke to one who said Ultimate is “played like a religion” by the marines and army in Baghdad, Iraq – sometimes 10 or 11 per side, several times a week. Interesting to know! I imagine it’s favoured amongst marines due to the minimal equipment needed, the low risk of injury due to contact, the high levels of fitness that can be used, and the way it encourages and rewards good teamwork.

The marines picked up skills quickly and fell into team roles very quickly too. One tall guy would defend the end zone and get the disc moving on the turn. A particularly quick turning guy from New York had mastered end zone cutting by the end of the session and scored so many points. Loads of them had awesome American-football style toeing-in ability, which was great to see.

Tomorrow is my last day in Albania, and we’re heading to the beach in Vlores to teach more PE teachers before working with the Model UN youth group!

Albania day 8: Vlore PE teacher & model UN sessions, Tuesday 18th April

It’s a 2.5 hour journey to Vlore – around the mountains and through the city of Fier. Fier is near where the largest oil deposits in Albania have been found, however the city is tiny compared to Tirana, and although picturesque, the roads are poorly maintained and the streets are lined with the now common sight of half-finished construction work.

The venue at Vlore was split between a tiny artificial turf area and an indoor hall. We had around 45 PE teachers turn up, and after Trent’s talk about Spirit of the Game we used what I’ve decided to call the SWAG approach to introducing Ultimate – Start With A Game. Due to the high numbers and small space we played a quick 3v3 demo game, where the basic rules regarding scoring, travelling, turnovers, no contact, and self-refereeing were illustrated.

It seems difficult to hold the attention of Albanian PE teachers for more than 30 minutes – which makes a 2-2.5 hour session quite the challenge. We managed to get across a few basic guidelines for good technique for backhand and forehand throws, demonstrated two drills which only require 1 disc, and finished with two games which anyone could take part in.

In the afternoon we met with a youth “Model UN” group. We had an extended discussion with them about the principles of Spirit of the Game, and how they could be extended to apply to society and politics with good effect. The practical part of the session was on a beach, and although it was windy, everyone picked up some throwing skills, practiced their catching of lead passes into the wind, and played a game for a good hour or so.

I finished the day (and my stay in Albania) with a swim in the sea, surrounded by the awesome scenery of mountain ranges. Summary report coming soon!

New Facebook page live – check for Albania updates

Updates from my Albania trip are being posted daily on my new FelixUltimate Facebook page – read about how I’m working together with the 10 Million Discs global charity to introduce Ultimate at the grass roots level by running sessions with PE teachers, NGOs, and youth groups from around the country.

Felix is going to Albania!

On 10th-19th April Felix will be travelling around Albania with the 10 Million Discs charity!

Along with Trent Simmons, Jason Morrison and Juan Amado, I will be delivering 3 sessions to High School PE teachers, 3 sessions to NGOs including to staff & detainees at Juvenile prison in Kavaje, 2 youth sessions, a training with a paraplegic community / wheelchair group, and an afternoon playing with Embassy staff + Marines, amongst other activities and meetings to set Ultimate into action in Albania in a big way.

Check back for updates!

Flexagon Defence v1.02

(c) Felix Shardlow v.1.02 26th June 2018

Also available in French / en Français (v0.97)

Part of a series:
Flexagon Defence
Advanced Flex Part I: Counter-Strategies
Advanced Flex Part II: Communication
Advanced Flex Part III: The Stall 3 Game-Changer

Intro

Flexagon Defence is not a zone, nor is it strictly 1-to-1 defence. Flex employs local positioning guidelines to reduce offensive advantage wherever possible. Where zonal marking utilises role-based teamwork and dynamic positioning; 1-to-1 defence employs simple positioning rules and focuses on athleticism; Flex utilises a set of principles which encourage defenders to work as a team, dynamically recognising any offensive mistakes or inefficiencies and attempting to punish them to gain advantage.

In Ultimate, offence by default has a huge advantage, and if they play very well then it’s very difficult for any defence to stop them from scoring. Actively gaining advantage on defence requires the ability to recognise offensive mistakes, and then utilise a combination of teamwork, positioning, and athleticism to capitalise.

The 3 Flex Principles

  • Communicate
  • Switch / surround where appropriate
  • Cover all offensive players as a team

Communication

Aim to open a communication channel with nearby teammates as soon as they are within range, so it can be used instantly when opponents move. There are three main ways of opening & using a communication channel:

  • eye contact – keep your head up – positional information is shared & acknowledged, chances for miscommunication reduced
  • gesticulation – keep your eyes open – pointing, indicating
  • vocalisation – keep your ears open – push/pull shouts to move teammates

For more on communication, see Advanced Flex Part II: Communication

Switch / surround where appropriate

  • Using your communication channel, reposition to surround offensive players when there is no space between two or more opponents
  • Surround with the same number of defenders as there are offensive players
  • If there is space between all offensive players, and their movement cannot be punished with switches, mark 1-to-1 until the opportunity to switch or surround arises
  • Prepare to switch marks early – pre-empt offensive movement if possible, as late / reactive switches only limit damage – they do not necessarily gain advantage for the defence
  • Prepare to switch marks when opponents move towards occupied areas
  • Switch if mutually beneficial for defenders, and both offensive players can be easier covered
  • Both players must move quickly to cover their new marks

Offensive players who are occupying the same space as each other, or moving towards occupied areas, are making mistakes – be prepared to punish them to gain advantage!

Cover all offensive players as a team

  • All individuals should be marking one specific player unless surrounding or flash-poaching
  • Leave no offensive player unmarked
  • Get help if trying to cover two players
  • Avoid defensive double-coverage
  • Only poach temporarily, and when you have help from a team mate (in a sandwiching / surrounding situation)
  • Solo poaches send false signals to other defenders, which causes a breakdown of Flex due to chain reaction

The offensive team have the same number of players as the defence – and one of their players isn’t allowed to move!

Global Positioning

Flex doesn’t really have a prescribed shape or formation, as the local positioning of the defenders is entirely dependant upon the positioning of the offensive players. However, if the theory of both offence and defence in Ultimate are explored to depths, a hexagon (or rotatable 2-3-2) shape emerges as most efficient use of space by 7 players. The hex shape is only utilised in Flex defence in three circumstances:

  • When playing against a Hex offence, as shape knowledge will help the defence to pre-empt offensive movement and punish positioning / movement mistakes
  • When the team are very experienced with playing Flex, and wish to employ more advanced ideas related to global switching & surrounding
  • If the defensive team are not switching or surrounding enough during normal play – calling initial positions can be useful as it puts defenders into a more ‘zone-like’ mindset, where they will be more actively looking for switching and surrounding opportunities.

Conversely, if a Flex team is surrounding too loosely, blowing switches often, or if poaching becomes an issue, calling initial match-ups on the line can encourage the defence to adopt a more 1-to-1-like mindset, which should address those problems.

If calling positions, by default: 2 forwards, 2 wings, 2 backs, 1 hat (central player).
If your opponent is playing horizontal stack it’s recommended you start with person-to-person marking, but if calling positions: 3 forwards, 2 wings, 1 hat, 1 back. For more on playing Flex against specific offensive strategies, see Advanced Flex Part I: Counter-Strategies
The terms “forward” and “back” refer to how you see the field when on the line before a point – “forwards” are comparable to “handler marks”, “backs” are comparable to “deeps”.
Remember that Flex is not a zone, and position calling should only be used in the three situations listed above.

The force – recommended: if the disc is near the middle force straight-up, if the disc is near the sideline force towards the line – this leaves defenders on either shoulder of the force in all situations. The force is not a critical part of Flex – it can often be left til last when making sure all offensive players are covered, and it can change depending on opponents / conditions. There should certainly not be a player chasing the disc and putting on multiple forces in a row (unless you have incorporated an advanced switching system into your Flex).


Further Reading

Advanced Flex Part I: Counter-Strategies
Advanced Flex Part II: Communication
Advanced Flex Part III: The Stall 3 Game-Changer

Want videos of Flex in action, or vocal explanations and stuff? Keep updated through the Hexagon Ultimate YouTube channel and the felixultimate YouTube channel.

Flex in action against FWD at Europeans – fast forward to 37:48:

GB Mixed U23’s played this defence at Worlds in 2015 – more videos of Felix explaining it to the team will be uploaded to the Hexagon Ultimate channel shortly (below is a video of the first time it was introduced to the team):

Hex/Flex in action against Japan at Worlds:

South Africa – country of hills and fences, beauty and disparity

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In October I was contacted by Fergus Klein, Chairperson of the Gauteng Flying Disc Association. Ferg graduated from Sussex (Mohawks) in 2014 and unbeknown to me had stayed heavily involved in Ultimate. The GFDA were looking for a coach to come over to up the level of the game in the region, which typically lags a little behind Cape Town, so I said I was keen to get involved! Ellie Tournier (GFDA Secretary) immediately got to work in planning fundraising efforts and making a packed schedule to make the most of every day I would be in SA. We coordinated to make this awesome video which tells a little about the history of Ultimate in South Africa, and the short and long-term aims for my trip:

I’ll break my report into three sections: Frisbee, Socio-economic-political environment, and Nature.

Frisbee:
Teams in the Gauteng region of South Africa play in a weekly mixed league consisting of 6 teams; two from the local universities – Wits and Zone Rangers (Tuks + graduates, from Pretoria), two teams which have developed from outreach efforts – Soweto and Orange Farm, plus Skyveld (originally Wits graduates), and last year’s champions Ultitude Grey Wolves.

Separation between university and club teams seems to be similar to how it was 15-20 years ago in the UK – i.e, university teams often enter club-level tournaments, and players who have graduated continue to play for them – or form their own team of graduates. For example, SA Nationals last year was won by the University of Cape Town (who play Hex Offence).

Whilst in SA I had the pleasure of running sessions with most of these teams, plus extended advanced clinics during my final weekend aimed at higher level players, and potential coaches.

Wits:
I ran two sessions at the University of the Witswatersrand. They’re a fun group who haven’t been doing too well in the league recently, and have suffered a bit in the last few years from changes in personel and leaders. For the first session, their captain Paul had requested I teach horizontal stack, IMG_20170302_211041so I put together a comprehensive 3hr session which drilled all the major aspects of the offence as it was played when I was on Clapham – with “peppermill” cutting patterns. They were attentive and picked up the ideas pretty well despite the fast-moving nature of the session, and when it came to implementing the ideas in the game they did well but were usually let down by simple catching or throwing errors.

For the next session, I spent the first hour focusing on catching and throwing fundamentals, and moved on to Hex offence. Ho-stack can be very effective for developed teams against person-to-person defence as it simplifies cutting and throwing options, however from a development point of view it can be counter-productive to impose rigid structures on a team who are just enjoying exploring their options on the field whilst developing their catching and throwing skills – allowing them freedom to choose from a variety of fluid options provides a more sound foundation for the learning process. The game at the end felt different when applying the Hex principles – still fairly stop-start due to turnovers, but the turns seemed to be happening in the middle of good sequences of play, rather than being like punctuation marks at the end. With some practice dedicated to catching/throwing fundamentals, and training with the freedom Hex allows, Wits have a good vibe and strong characters to hold them together whilst they go from strength to strength.

Pretoria / Tuks / Zone Rangers:
The session in Pretoria, a city just north of Johannesburg, brought together players from Tuks Uni and the Zone Rangers / Ranger Danger players. Whilst in Pretoria I stayed with Justus and Arno, who have a couple of amazing German Shepherd dogs, and five puppies! IMG_20170307_210528I’m a total sucker for cuteness and spent most of the evening sitting on the kitchen floor playing with them – though they do hurt when they decide to bite your socks – and they don’t give up! Justus took me on a trip to the Voortrekker Monument during the day where I learnt about the history of Afrikaners – a Southern African ethnic group descended from predominantly Dutch settlers who first arrived in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, who make up the majority of the Pretoria population. The players even joked about whether I could repeat what I was saying in Afrikaans, a daughter language of Dutch. Photos and videos from the Voortrekker Monument are in the full album.
The Pretoria bunch were really good fun – the session had a really great vibe and a wide spread of experience, they don’t take themselves too seriously but they are more than capable of pulling out some great plays when they want to, and really put their heads into learning and applying the things I had to teach. By the end of the game they were absolutely shredding zones, using the Hex structure to move the disc around in a flurry of short passes to get around and through the cup. I can’t quite get over how they differentiated between the two teams just with very thin orange or green sashes (you can see an orange one in the photo) – shirt colour was completely irrelevant! That said, I didn’t notice any of them getting confused on the field, so I guess they have adapted. Consensus seemed to be that Hex suited their approach to the game, so I look forward to hearing how they’re getting along with it all in the future!

Orange Farm:
A few miles south of Johannesburg lies the township of Orange Farm. The Orange Farm Ultimates were started 8 years ago, and have competed in tournaments in the past but are geographically isolated. The captain, Bongani, is a sports teacher at a local school, which has allowed him to add Ultimate to the curriculum and ensure a flow of new players. 17038907_731463740346749_2392655533295384340_oTheir objective is to become competitive enough to compete on an international level, while providing an alternative to the youth of Orange Farm to get them off the streets and live an active and positive lifestyle through sport.
The journey to Orange Farm started by leaving a street with large houses surrounded by 10ft high walls with electric fences, driving to the southern outskirts of Johannesburg, into the township, alongside homes made from corrugated iron sheets, through the dirt-track bustling town centre, and onto a large field with long grass. During the session we worked on throwing techniques, forcing & breaking the force, and then Hex principles in the game. As the game went on, everyone got into it more and more, and by the end I was finding it very difficult to contain U24 squad member Sizwe as he passed and moved all around the field – getting the disc back at will like a Hex pro. Towards the end of the game Lindelani, also on the U24 squad, caught an incredible backwards layout which got everyone cheering. It was great fun playing with them and seeing how much they improved during the time I was with them!
They went on to beat Wits in the league a few days later, 15-8. Congrats Orange Farm! Big things to come in the future.

Soweto:
As we arrived in the western outskirts of Johannesburg at the Soweto fields, we saw 20 players wearing yellow shirts with frisbees flying between them. It was immediately apparent that these players train a lot. Throws were coming out smooth and flying great distances. They apparently meet up 3+ times a week, but have had little contact with the outside frisbee community. 17159093_732281100265013_14164593474783809_oI had been told they have a fast-paced style and would run for days – however upon talking to them, they seemed to think fitness was one of their biggest weaknesses! Certainly nobody can say they don’t have a fast-paced style – they took to Hex like ducks to water, and seemed to really appreciate the throwing/catching tips and strategy chat that I had with them at lunchtime.
Playing in the game with them at the end, at times on defence I honestly felt out of my depth. They were able to move the disc around without hesitation, tossing backhands over defenders with ease, rarely allowing the defence time to figure out what was going on.
The enthusiasm of this team, combined with the amount of training time they’ve had and the lack of influence from the external frisbee community, mean they have evolved a natural organic style which I think any player can learn a lot from. IMG_20170306_210400Toss passes were particularly common – a natural counter when tight person-to-person marking stops short flat passes, and very hard to defend against if thrown accurately. They were all on the same page regarding their style; when James stepped onto the field – a Skyveld player with very solid but ‘traditional’ style/technique – the rhythm/tempo was occasionally disrupted and flow halted, showing that this team had truly developed their own way of playing which didn’t line up with the traditional approach – and I preferred it!

Hex works fantastically with this style, providing a guideline for creating and using space effectively which supports quick movement, without restricting the freedom of the players to run where they want at any given time. I ran a load of Hex drills with them, and if they dedicate training time to perfecting those drills then I wouldn’t be surprised if they were competing for the National title in a couple of years.

A really nice sequence of play at the Soweto session
I was invited to play with Soweto at their league match on Monday against Zone Rangers – I was honoured and enjoyed it immensely. Zone Rangers noted that when Soweto got the disc moving quickly against their zone, it got shredded and forced them to switch to a person-to-person mark. Despite loads of great play we weren’t able to get the victory, but went 2-0 up and kept it fairly close, finishing 15-9.

Check out the full drone video made by Davin here, and more footage from the Orange Farm and Soweto sessions here.
Coaches & Players clinics:
My final weekend in South Africa was the big one – players travelled from afar (some flying 2 hours from Durban – the same distance as London->Paris) for a coaching clinic on Saturday and a players clinic on Sunday. It was great having representatives from so many different teams – we took the opportunity to share our thoughts about Spirit of the Game at the start of the coaches session, and progressed onto coaching theory, methods for teaching sound techniques, designing and running drills and set plays, planning sessions, coaching advice for match/tournament situations, and guidelines for adapting your team strategy in response to what your opponent is playing in real-time. 17274027_10104902494244133_1470253876_oWe had practical sections where the participants would role-play as coaches welcoming beginners to practice – throwing around with them and then offering technique advice in a way that encouraged the pupil to buy-in to the idea of being coached. Participants also paired up to design a drill and run it with the (incredibly attentive) group we had, before receiving feedback from the whole group on how they thought it went – hopefully everyone went away with the knowledge and confidence to improve their teams training sessions!
At the player clinic I introduced myself by talking about having played Ultimate non-stop for 17 years, and coached non-stop for 15 years, before talking about how we were going to look at sound catching & throwing fundamentals today, followed by some Hex offence drills and play. Fergus prompted me by asking what my relation to Hex was, and when I said I had invented it, there was a noticeable sound of surprise from those gathered – most if not all had heard of or even played it before, but hadn’t known where it had originated!IMG_20170311_162344 Hex is quite big already in South Africa as it’s played by Chilli (club team from Cape Town), University of Cape Town, SA Masters at WUGC, and was taught at the SA U24 training which took place just before I arrived (unrelated to my visit).
Teaching the fundamental catching and throwing techniques I’ve come to trust really surprised a lot of the experienced players – some commented that they would have to completely re-work their techniques. We went through a variety of different throwing skills, such as how to put touch on passes and key elements to efficiently transferring power from the core to the throw when hucking, and I believe everyone got something useful from the technique section of the day, with some people almost being overwhelmed with the amount of stuff to learn!
17237186_10104902492742143_95229856_oIn the afternoon we went through a number of Hex drills quite quickly – the Give-Go-Swill Drill, Hex Puzzle Drill, Hex Huck Drills, Keepdisc, and the all-new Red Zone Drill to practice scoring without breaking away from the Hex principles. The game at the end was high quality and I was really happy with how everyone was adopting the principles. I stopped the game a few times to highlight points at which we were surrounding the disc, not rotating the shape or crowding the narrow channel, and these elements got better and better as the game progressed. When the defence put on a zone, we experimented with surrounding the disc and it felt awesome – so I ended up learning quite a lot from the session too!

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Disc Run

Ellie arranged for me to go on a ‘Disc Run’ a couple of days into my stay. All I knew is that a guy called Lionel would be picking me up on his motorbike in the morning, and I had to be ready at 5am outside the house with a disc in hand. IMG_20170303_052655Sure enough Lionel turned up before sunrise, so I hopped on as he told me to relax (it was my first time) and we rode to to a nearby (huge) park. Whilst we warmed up other disc runners arrived – Brett, Jon, and Angus, and they explained the basic rules; basically a cross between throwing around, speed disc golf, and hill running – you go round the course in pairs completing long passes to each other between tees and trees or disc golf baskets. IMG_20170310_062222An incomplete pass counts as a dropped shot, and you aim to complete the course in as few shots as possible, as quickly as possible. This effectively means you throw long to a partner, then hill run past them, read & catch a long throw from them, and repeat the process until you’ve putted out (all holes are par 4). We completed 36 holes – a front 18 and back 18 – and it was one of the greatest experiences of my life, combining loads of things I love together!
To top it all off, the sunrise scenery was absolutely awe inspiring, and I captured it in one of the best photos I think I have ever taken. #nofilter

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Sunrise during a disc run

Socio-economic-political environment:

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Every house for streets looks like this – those are 10,000v electric fences

Johannesburg is not a safe place if you don’t keep your eyes open and your wits about you. The streets in the area I was staying were lined with 10ft high walls with 10,000 volt electric fences on top. When approaching your house, you press your key to activate the rolling gate, but you must not approach the gate before it fully opens, as this gives hijackers a chance to drive up behind you and block you in. Keep your car windows closed and your doors locked. This is all taken for granted by those who live in Johannesburg – do not allow yourself to be in situations where you may be a victim of crime. Those situations are far more common than one might imagine – essentially, there must be security in order for you to be secure. When I arrived it all seemed a bit over the top, and perhaps fear is one of the most damaging elements here – first comes the fear, then comes the walls, then comes the crime… underlying it all is a huge economic disparity and a conflict between people who want to keep things pretty much as they are for as long as they can, and those who are keen for real change to happen but often powerless to do much about it.
IMG_20170304_161555Apartheid ended in 1994 – really not very long ago – and the years since then have been troubled, under the ANC party who were originally Mandela’s party. Now the general feeling is that the ANC remain in power as the masses are kept in the dark, believing they are still voting for the party that will bring the change and equality Mandela championed. In reality, president Zuma has gone mad with power, has lost touch with reality, and does scant to improve the situation. Recently the 3rd most popular political party, the EFF, got evicted from the houses of parliament because they were asking Zuma when he was going to pay back the money he spent on his sprawling mansion for himself & his multiple wives. The 2nd most powerful party, the DA, staged a walk-out protest immediately after, when the speaker could not confirm nor deny that those who evicted the EFF were police officers – which would be a gross violation of the constitution. The political situation however is far from hopeless – democracy does seem to be alive, and the main enemies of change in this situation appear to be mass ignorance and a desire to hold on to privileged comfort. Who knows how Zuma will react when he loses grip though…

IMG_20170313_154245The economic disparity on the ground is like nothing I could have ever imagined. Generally speaking, white South Africans live in secure residences with high walls, electric fences, maids, gardeners, and security guards at the complexes, whilst black South Africans reside in townships constructed on the outskirts – small bricked bungalow houses, some with corrugated iron roofs, signs on planks, with a supply of electricity and water if they aren’t the unlucky ones. These two extremes exist just a couple of kilometres away from each other (or less) and there are no middle-ground houses – no semi-detached or terraced houses which are so common in England. You can’t just hit the middle ground and build a ton of terraced houses for everyone to live in though – this divide runs deep.
At every road junction, modern first world cars (mostly populated by one white driver) pull up at the red lights whilst black street entertainers, beggars, window cleaners, rubbish collectors, street vendors, and so on come to their windows and ask for money one way or another. Every single junction. Practically all outward-facing jobs are populated by black South Africans – road workers, waiters/waitresses, security guards, parking attendants, shop assistants, maids, gardeners… whilst this other class of white folk somehow exist between the cracks, safe in their cars and fortified residences, writing the paychecks and keeping the financial and business worlds spinning throughout it all. This division of labour leads one to think that whilst these two worlds are existing within one country, it naturally follows that those who have it want to keep it, and those who don’t have it want to take it.
IMG_20170308_114714In the end it comes down to the government, and so long as internet data is kept expensive in South Africa, knowledge is controlled, ignorance is king, and the ANC with Zuma will continue to rake in the votes from the townships who are in the most need of change.
The political situation is very complicated and I have a limited understanding of it from my two weeks in the country – I simply tried to soak it up from the experiences and conversations I was able to have in that time, which means my opinions are pretty biased and I have generalised in order to save space – so I’m not claiming to do the situation justice at all. I’m sure there are many elements I am missing and you should by all means form your own opinions from your own information sources. Guard dogs, which are an essential security measure for residences, are all massive racists though – that’s for sure.

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This punk chick was just chilling on the side of the road

Nature:
The South African landscape is awesome. Huge hills everywhere, vast expanses in valleys. In the typical garden you’ll find birds with extravagant colours, lizards, and apparently the occasional snake or scorpion – though I didn’t encounter any. On the roads there are zebras and other large mammals just hanging out. Whilst visiting the Cradle of Humankind (where there were signs warning of deadly snakes as soon as you strayed from the paths) with Andy, we went on a walk through the Sterkfontein Caves, where there was an underground lake which went on for miles and miles – nobody knows how deep it is, and one person died trying to find out!
I visited the Lion and Rhino park with IMG_20170310_123732Paul from Wits – not a very big place, containing plenty of big cats and other animals. There was a resident cheetah that I heard purring loudly as some guests stroked it. I got to feed a giraffe and play with some lion cubs using a frisbee… it was a fun and interesting experience, but ultimately a bit saddening that they were being kept in fairly small areas, and even more so when I later found out some of the cubs will almost certainly be used for caged hunting later in their lives.

Fergus took me and his brother Lewis to Pilansburg Nature Reserve & Wildlife Park – a massive expanse of land where animals roam free, and humans are strictly forbidden from interfering in any way. The main tracks through the park were tarmac, but the others were dirt tracks which were often incredibly difficult to navigate a regular car through without getting stuck – thankfully IMG_20170302_131108Ferg has hundreds of hours of experience as a qualified field guide so we didn’t get stuck once, and he was able to identify all the animals we saw, and bird calls we heard! Whilst going along the tracks you have to keep a keen eye out to spot any animals in the vicinity, as you never know where they will be. Sometimes we’d just catch a brief glimpse of something flat and grey between the bush, reverse the car, and suddenly a full grown elephant would come into view… or the top of a tree would look funny, and it’d turn out to be a giraffe. Sometimes the animals would appear on the road in front of us, or pop out of the bush right next to us!
IMG_20170309_073230Seeing wild white rhinos and elephants on the track about 15m in front of us felt so unreal. I was acutely aware of how the animals regarded us – did they have a concept of humans as an animal?
Likely they just saw cars as an uninteresting animal – they don’t smell nice, they keep to the tracks, they keep their distance, and they don’t bother us. This meant they seemed to be totally relaxed in our presence – we even saw the rhinos playfully tussling a little – though when they started coming down the road towards us we made sure to back off and keep our distance.

Also seen were; hippos – minding their own business in a swampy lake; kudu – nice looking large stripe game-type animals; and plenty of wildebeest, impala, birchel zebra, and more. It felt fantastic to be surrounded by nature, and encouraged thoughts of “could I survive in this environment?”, IMG_20170302_123532but there was a lingering awareness I had that the whole area was ultimately surrounded by a fence, leading me to realise we were having to fence the most dangerous animals out – humans – and in places where nature exists without any fences, poaching is very rapidly reducing the large animal population to nil. Nature reserves are becoming like a window into the past, where we can witness how beautiful, balanced and diverse the earth had become before human evolution spiked.

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All the photos and videos I took on my trip are available in this Google Photos album – some of my remaining favourites are below. Lastly I’d like to say a huge thank you to everyone who made my stay in South Africa possible, and so hugely enjoyable – Ellie, Fergus, Justus, Arno, Paul, Andy, Charlotte – everyone who let me crash at their place and drove me around to show me the wonders your country has to offer, and all those who donated to the fundraiser! I hope my work has long lasting impact in the region and I aim to return in the future (to talk about defence!).

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Giraffe popping it’s head over the bush

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Arno’s German Shepherd & pup

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Sunrise over a city in the Sahara desert

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With Fergus & Ellie, and one of the presents from the Soweto team

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Fergus & Ellie’s dog Wiley – a big softie

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Click for full photosphere

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Hexagon Offence v2.2

v 2.2 – 15th March 2016
Concept first published 1st Jan 2013
Also available in French / en Français (v2.1)

Hex Offence combines Total Football’s freedom of movement with Spain’s tiki-taka quick passing style of play, and applies it to the Ultimate field.

Hex can be explained through four simple principles:

1. Always take the open pass
2. Fake to any option you cannot throw to
3. Use space as you see it developing
4. Maintain the shape

Abiding by these principles creates a fast-moving, flow-based offence which doesn’t give the defence a chance to set, maximises the offensive options available, and constantly changes the angles of attack.

1. Always take the open pass

  • Regardless of field position or yardage – if the open pass is behind you, take it. Don’t wait to see if there’s another open pass which can gain you yards, simply take the open pass you are aware of at that point in time.
  • Regardless of stall count – if you have an open pass on stall 1, don’t hold onto the disc to see if anything else will present itself later in the stall, simply take the open pass as soon as you see it.
  • Face infield – by facing towards the centre of the shape, you are able to see open passes develop anywhere on the field at any time.
  • Initiate & maintain flow – two quick passes can be enough to initiate flow, and once flowing, sustain it for as long as possible by continuing to take the open passes.

2. Fake to any option you cannot throw to
Faking should always be realistic and purposeful. There are three main purposes for faking, in order of importance:
a) To move downfield defenders around – if you have seen a potential option, then the good defenders on the field will also have seen it, so a realistic fake will get them committing to cover this option, and open up other options for the offence elsewhere on the field.
b) To communicate with your team – when you fake to a potential throwing option, you communicate to that player that you have recognised the option they are providing, but that you are not going to throw it for whatever reason. This serves as a prompt for them to provide an option elsewhere on the field. The rest of your team are also party to this communication, and should respond appropriately. An effect of a good purposeful fake is that the team are brought onto the same page, into sync, and are then able to establish a rhythm to their offence and control the tempo.
c) To move your mark – useful to make a particular throw easier, and often considered the primary reason for faking, sometimes fakes for this purpose are not aimed at viable options and thus can cause miscommunication and disconnection between the thrower and their team mates. When there are enough offensive options available, faking solely for this purpose is no longer productive.

3. Use space as you see it developing
As space opens on the field, make use of it by moving into it. The shape (below) acts as a map of the potential space on the field relative to where the disc is at any point.
See space developing early by having your head up and being aware of the positioning of your team mates and the defenders whenever possible.
Create space for each other by making movements, even when closely covered.
Take what your defender gives you, or make them give you something you want.

4. Maintain the shape
The shape (a hexagon) stays the same regardless of the location of the disc – rotating as it nears the sideline in order to keep all players inside the playing field & away from the sideline, as illustrated here. The shape cannot and need not always be perfect during a point, but all players should make efforts and work as a team to maintain the shape when they can, especially if they are not involved in the immediate play.

  • Stay connected – when in good shape, each player is connected to (within 8-12 yards of) three team mates. The distance between any two players in the shape is guided by the team’s average throwing ability, or wind conditions – it should be a comfortable pass if the player moves towards the thrower as quickly as possible, or if they move away from the thrower as quickly as possible (a long pass). The three players connected to the thrower occupy the centre of the comfortable distances the thrower can pass, and keep the same distance away from each other.
  • Make triangles – the shape consists of six equilateral triangles, so if players focus locally on maintaining these triangles, the hexagon shape forms naturally.
  • Keep equidistant – locally, ensure the triangles are equilateral. These equal distances make it much easier to ensure everyone is connected, and to establish rhythm and tempo control as an offence, as well as setting a standard for pass-length that players can become familiar and comfortable with.
  • Avoid the narrow channel – when moving up past a player with the disc, take the path on the wider side of the field – avoid the space between the thrower and the sideline.
  • Don’t surround the disc – against person-to-person marking, surrounding the disc (i.e. having the thrower in the centre of the shape, or having a ‘reset’ on the opposite side of the disc to ‘cutters’) will often lead to turnovers and should be avoided. Against zonal defence, surrounding the disc can be beneficial.

Theoretical movement – without defenders, the most efficient way to advance the disc down the field whilst maintaining shape would be to pass the disc down the sideline whilst the hex rotates like a wheel rolling down the line – as illustrated in this animation.
In practice, defenders prevent the most efficient offensive movement, and so although globally the structure effectively rotates as it moves down the sideline, not all local situations will reflect this rotation directly.
When the disc is passed forwards through the middle, players behind and lateral with the disc must push up to avoid surrounding the disc (whilst avoiding the narrow channel), as illustrated in this animation and this animation.

“Hexagon” technically refers to the shape used in this offence, which can be considered as separate to the principles and style of play this article lays out. For simplicity, I am combining both the shape and the style in this article and under the name Hexagon Offence, as no other offences currently exist which use the Hex shape (though the positions in Frank Huguenard’s Motion Offence result in a similar shape). If plenty more Hex-based offences spring up over time then this combined shape & style may be renamed to something containing my name, such as Shardlow Offence, Felix O, etc.

Scoring
Scoring in all Ultimate usually happens in one of two ways: (1) from a deep throw, or (2) from flow towards the end zone. When the disc is around the area of the brick mark, the deep throw is a significant threat, so defenders must not allow the offence players to streak free towards the zone. This allows the offence more chances to be free coming back towards the disc, for shorter passes which can be used to initiate flow. Hardly any turnovers happen when the disc is thrown from near the brick mark.
As the disc gets closer to the end zone, the deep throw is no longer a threat, so the defence can apply more pressure to shorter passes. When flow stops outside the end zone, the odds of the offence scoring decreases significantly.
When in this situation, it is still relatively easy for the offence to initiate flow – if they are moving away from the end zone. The offence should coordinate flowing away from the zone – towards the brick mark – whilst vacating all players from the end zone (staying connected), as this will quickly open up the deep throw again as an immediate scoring option, and put them in a good position to direct their flow back towards the end zone.
The ideal distance to which you should flow away from the end zone depends on the players on your team – far enough so that all defenders are out of the end zone, but not so far that your players cannot reach the end zone with a long throw.

Resources
Training Hex Offence with your team – contains some diagrams & descriptions of drills, and tips on how to introduce the offence to your team.
Mex Offence v2.1 – an older version of this doc – more verbose.
Full game footage of Hexagon Offence being played is available at pushpass.co.uk – see any of Brighton City’s games from UKU Nationals 2012/13/14, XEUCF 2013, EUCF 2014, or any Sussex Mohawks 1 or Brighton Panthers games from Uni Regionals 2014. For clips of Hexagon Offence see the Hexagon Ultimate YouTube channel – here are some samples from the channel of Hex in action, taken in 2013.

NB: The play in these videos is by no means a perfect display of Hex, and in the football ones I did get a bit overzealous on drawing triangles over the pitch…



Full drone cam footage of GB U23X v GB Mixed 2015




Felix in South Africa!

I’m currently in the Gauteng region of South Africa (around Johannesburg), coaching outreach teams, universities, club teams, and running clinics for leaders, coaches and players! You can follow my progress for now through these Facebook photos, and I’ll be putting up a full report afterwards.

Check out this video, created collaboratively between myself and Gauteng Ultimate, which explains more about South Africa’s history, what’s going on with Ultimate in the Gauteng region, and what I’m doing whilst out here:


It’s a really exciting project with a ton of potential, and any donation you can offer is greatly appreciated and will go to Gauteng Ultimate who are funding my trip. To donate, click here and go to the Indiegogo fundraising page!